US health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves to get the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the count Thursday as public health experts lamented President Joe Biden’s recent remark that “the pandemic is over.”
The White House said more than 5 million people received the new reinforcements at its own discretion, which explains delays in the states.
Health experts said it was too early to predict whether demand would match the 171 million doses of new boosters the United States ordered in the fall.
“Nobody is going to go look at uptake of our flu vaccine at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In cases, I think we will see a lot of people get the new (COVID) vaccine.”
The temporary shortage of Moderna’s vaccine has caused some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule the Pfizer vaccine. The problem was expected to be resolved as government regulators completed an inspection and authorized the distribution of vaccine doses.
“I expect this to rise in the coming weeks,” said White House coordinator on COVID-19 Dr Ashish Jha. We’ve been thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu shot. Flu vaccine season begins in late September and early October. We are just launching our educational campaign. So we expect to see, despite the fact that this was a strong start, we actually expect this to go up stronger.”
Some Americans planning to get the shot, which is designed to target the most common strains of omicron, said they are waiting because they have either recently contracted COVID-19 or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of the anti-virus antibodies.
Others schedule closer shots to holiday gatherings and the winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.
Retired hospital chaplain Jenny Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new booster in two weeks after having some minor knee surgery. The interest is high among its neighbors from what you see on the Nextdoor app.
“There is a great deal of discussion going on among people who are willing to make appointments,” Murphy said. “I found it encouraging. For every nay, there will be 10 or 12 people who will jump up and say, ‘You’re crazy. All you have to do is get the shot.'”
Biden later acknowledged his criticism of his remarks about the end of the pandemic and made clear that the pandemic was “not in place.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease is in a stable state when “we’ll get the COVID vaccines in the fall like the flu shots.”
Experts hope she’s right, but they are waiting to find out what levels of infection the winter causes. Doody said the summer extension in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths had been followed by another increase.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was asked Thursday by a panel of biodefense experts about what still vomits at night, said half of Americans who were vaccinated did not get an initial booster dose.
“We have a weakness in our population that will continue to put us in potential disruption to our social system,” Fauci said. “I think we have to do better as a nation.”
Some Americans who have received the new vaccines said they are excited about the idea of the vaccine targeting variants now in circulation.
“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who got a new booster shot and a flu shot on Tuesday, one in each arm. He is involved in the martial art of jiu-jitsu, so he wants to protect himself from infection that may come from close contact. “I have no problem trusting people whose job it is to look at the evidence.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s statement was echoed in the “60 Minutes” interview that was broadcast on Sunday via social media.
“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on that. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said while touring the Detroit auto show. “If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everyone seems to be in very good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”
By Wednesday on Facebook, when the Kansas Department of Health posted a place where residents can find the new booster shots, the first commentator said maliciously:
“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”
Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, said the president’s statement, despite his attempts to make it clear, added to the public confusion.
“People are not sure when to get support. ‘Do I qualify?’ People often get confused about which option is right for them, even when looking for that information,” Michaud said.
“Anytime you have mixed messages, it’s detrimental to public health efforts,” Michaud said. “The presence of mixed messages from the president’s statements, makes this task even more difficult.”
University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he was concerned that the president’s statement had taken on a life of its own and could hamper prevention efforts.
“This audio clip has been around for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. It’s going to give the impression of ‘Oh, there’s nothing else we need to do,'” Salemi said.
“If we are happy that 400 or 500 people die every day from COVID, there is a problem with that,” Salemi said. “We can certainly do a better job because most, if not all, of these deaths can be completely prevented with the tools we have.”
New York City photographer Vivian Jokoa, 44, received her new boost on Monday. She contracted COVID twice, once before vaccinations were available and again in May. She was vaccinated with two doses of Moderna, but did not get the original boosters.
“When I saw the new booster that was capable of manipulating an omicron variable, I thought, ‘I’m doing it,'” Jokowa said.
“I don’t want to deal with an omicron again. I was thrilled to see the reinforcements have been updated.”
Associated Press medical writer Laurent Niergaard and AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this. ___
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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